Robert Johnson -- almost 100

Thursday, 05 May 2011 12:00 AM Written by 

robert_johnsonIt's almost May 8, which, in addition to Mother's Day, will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of blues legend Robert Johnson. You get to decide which one means more to you, but here today, we'll focus on Mr. Johnson.

I was reminded of this when I ran across this piece in USA Today, offering the thoughts of some fine musicians on how Johnson inspired or influenced them.

So I looked for some more, and found this thoughtful piece in the Chicago Tribune talking about the mythical implications of Johnson's work and that of Bob Dylan.

And this lengthy article from the LA Times about Johnson's legendary life.

Meanwhile, just about every place but Pittsburgh will be hosting some kind of Johnson memorial/tribute this weekend (okay, I was exaggerating a little bit there).

There will be some new releases of the body of Johnson's work. Obviously, there are no new recordings, just new packaging. But if you've got a spare $349, you can buy a limited-edition four-CD box set, "Robert Johnson: The Complete Original Masters Centennial Edition," with all of his 29 recordings and 13 alternate takes, newly remastered, together with a two-disc "Rarities From the Vaults," featuring roots artists who recorded during the same sessions as Johnson, and rare tracks by his likely influences, including Tommy Johnson, Memphis Minnie and Blind Willie McTell.

Here are a few of the events you might want to get to:

• Greenwood, Miss., where Johnson reportedly died, will host a four-day celebration starting today, highlighted by a seminar, tours of blues heritage sites and a concert Saturday afternoon featuring the Warren Haynes Band, Johnson contemporary David "Honeyboy" Edwards and Keb' Mo'.

• At the May 4-5 Blues Awards/Hall of Fame ceremonies in Memphis, "Love in Vain" will be inducted (joining five other Johnson songs) and his heirs will be given plaques.

• The Chicago Blues Festival June 10-12 will explore Johnson's life with a panel discussion led by Johnson's grandson, Steven, and a tribute concert featuring Edwards and Hubert Sumlin. 

Here's one of my favorite quotes among all the things I've read about this, from David "Honeyboy" Edwards:

On white performers adapting to the blues: "They've got good fingers, but most of them don't have the voice. Let me tell you something, the blues was meant to be played slow. And they play it too fast. The slower it's played, the more things that you can pour into it from your own lifetime of experiences."

Here's one of my favorite Robert Johnson songs -- I love the vivid imagery:

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